The March 28th release of Paramount Picture’s new film NOAH is upon us. Many are predicting Russell Crowe’s interpretation of Noah will make the film the latest addition to the Biblical Film Blockbuster list.
Hollywood has been making Biblical films since the late 1800s. Every generation of writer/director/cinematographer wants their chance to retell or recreate that one story that influenced them. Over the years, there have been films that have broken out of the “biblical film” stereotype and have shown themselves to be worthy of Blockbuster status.
In 1951 during the Golden era, MGM decided to take on the story of Jesus in the epic movie “Quo Vadis“. This big-budget spectacular was the recipient of 8 Academy Award nominations including Best Picture and the year’s #1 box office hit. According to the Margaret Herrick Library, Center for Motion Picture Studios, Quo Vadis earned $11,143,000 in the US and Canada and $9,894,000 elsewhere, during its initial theatrical release.
Charlton Heston’s portrayal of Moses in Cecil B. Demille’s Ten Commandments is one of the most recognized Biblical figures in film history. This 1956 Paramount Pictures film is actually a remake of DeMille’s 1923 film also entitled Ten Commandments. According to the LA Times, this film is the alpha and the omega of lavish biblical epics. On top of being nominated for seven Academy Awards (they won for special effects) it grossed $65 million dollars in theaters. Adjusted for inflation, this equates to approximately 1.09 billion dollars in today’s money.
In 1959, Heston went on to star in the Blockbuster hit Ben-Hur. Chariot races, Roman slaves and Christ’s Sermon on the Mount only make up 9 of the 212 minutes of this film. With 11 Academy awards, it is no wonder the film is ranked by the Academy as one the winningest films of all time. An honor they share with Titanic and The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King.
These are only 3 of a decade’s worth of films. The number of biblical films in Hollywood would surprise even the savviest of us. You have The Robe that earned $36 million in 1953, The Greatest Story Ever Told which cost $20 million in 1965, the rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar in 1973, the revisionist The Last Temptation of Christ in 1988 and the 1979 parody Life of Brian just to name a few.
It’s not until the turn of this century that we see the Biblical films return with such fervor and success.
DreamWorks starts it off with an animated musical The Prince of Egypt in 1998. This film went on to gross $219 million and won an Academy Award for Best Original song for the hit “When You Believe”.
Mel Gibson’s controversial The Passion of Christ in 2004 won three Oscars. The film has earned $371 million; 84 million of it was earned on opening week. This not only makes the film the actual highest grossing Biblical film of all time, but also the highest grossing independent film.
In 2006, The Nativity Story earned a total of $46.4 million on a reported $35 million budget. In the same year, One Night with a King earned $27 million.
Which brings us to the present. 20th Century Fox is currently tackling two biblical films Son of God and Exodus. Sony is releasing Heaven is for Real. Lionsgate is working on Mary, Mother of Christ. All are due to come out this year!
It looks like Regency Enterprises’ Noah will have some stiff completion for the title of Greatest Biblical Film Epic. I for one look forward to seeing it and making my own decision. What about you? See you at the movies!
By Ninnette Marie Aquino